June 20, 2010 in Nation/World

EU food labeling push has Italians rallying for Nutella

Alessandra Rizzo Associated Press
Taking stock

The new EU measure would require protein, fiber and trans-fat levels to be shown on labels. The parliament rejected a measure that would have required food with lots of fat, sugar or salt to carry red warning stickers.

ROME – To Italians, Nutella is much more than chocolate-hazelnut spread. It’s a cultural icon, the subject of memorable movie scenes, books and song lines.

So it’s no wonder that the mere suggestion that stricter European food labeling rules could harm the beloved product would have Italians up in arms.

The European Parliament approved a draft measure this week requiring all processed foods to have fat, salt and sugar contents clearly labeled on packaging, mostly on the front. The initiative is aimed at fighting obesity and giving consumers more informed choices.

The legislation, which requires final approval from the EU’s executive body, was seen as a compromise because the parliament rejected a related measure that would have required food with lots of fat, sugar or salt – like Nutella – to carry red warning stickers.

Still, it has touched a nerve with food producers, who advocate less strict guidelines, and consumer groups and leftist parliament members, who wanted stronger steps such as the red “traffic light” warnings.

But to Italians, it’s all about Nutella and the fear that the EU might be scaring consumers away from one of their culinary joys.

A government official launched a “Hands off Nutella” committee, quickly supported by the governor of Nutella’s home base in Piedmont. The Cabinet minister for EU affairs warned against “nutritionist fundamentalism.”

Nutella is produced by chocolate maker Ferrero. Since it came out in 1964, it has been a favorite of Italians for generations.

Ferrero, while recognizing that the regulations would not amount to a ban on Nutella, says the EU approach carries “risks.” The company’s vice president, Paolo Fulci, said in a statement that over time it could “influence even the habits and the most intimate aspects of one’s personal sphere, like the genuine and healthy pleasures that are passed among generations.”

But Europe, like the United States, is becoming more health conscious and several countries are taking official steps to promote a better diet.

Denmark and Austria have made artery-clogging trans-fats illegal; Britain, Norway and Sweden have banned junk food commercials from TV at certain times of the day; Romania recently proposed taxes on burgers, french fries, soda and other fast foods with high fat and sugar content.

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